I just finished writing a Christmastide article for our parish newsletter, The Messenger, in which I shared a conversation I had with one of the employees at the local, Lee's Summit Starbuck's -- where I often get coffee in the morning on the way to the parish office (a drive of ca. 25 minutes from home). Jason is a young adult who is tall with long, dark hair that is neatly combed and in a ponytail. He always has a smile and a wave, whenever I come in. For some time, we have shared witicisms, comments on events of the moment and occasional short conversations around the global issues of the moment. He is relaxed and always has a perspective that stimulates further thought. He reminds me of a quiet philosopher-type. He obviously has solid roots. (to get information on the circumstances of this blog, please read my reflections at http://www.standrewkc.org/RectorsReflections.htm . It is entitled "Christmastide: "Living on the Edge" and will be online by Friday, 18 December).
Today I made a stop at "my" Starbuck's to grab a coffee, and Jason was at the counter. As he poured, I told him I had quoted him in my parish newsletter article. He seemed surprised and somewhat humbled. In reflection, I said to him, "It's not often one encounters a straight-forward prophet." He stood rigidly upright as he turned from the coffee urn. "I am not even close to being a prophet! I don't have those credentials," he stated firmly. At this response, I was not surprised nor offput. In fact, it is what I had hoped to hear.
A prophet is not self-proclaimed. It is a gift that happens and/or becomes entwined with a particular style of being in relationship that opens the doors to "insight possibilities." Prophecy is not fortune-telling, future-telling, or simple intellectual insight. It is a coming together of the current moment with spiritual, emotional and mental alertness to a vista that suddenly opens to how this moment can/will play out. It is at once multi-dimensional and all embracing. The door can shut as quickly as it opens -- leaving things much as they were. The prophet then moves on...maybe oblivious to how he/she has just been utilized by forces well beyond his/her control.
If someone proclaims him/her-self a prophet, go in the other direction. Self-proclamation is an act of hubris (spiritual pride) that can be both dangerous and deceptively manipulative. In true prophecy, one is a vessel or instrument and never the generator of what is being shared. Jason had no idea that our November conversation revealed something very important and precious to me -- and that the revelation from his words would set me on an internal journey of deeper theological truth. For him, what he shared was a moment of simple, insightful observation....nothing more.
Being a sage is much the same as being a prophet. The term "sage" renders the modern term "sagacious" and refers to wisdom. Wisdom is not intelligence or being smart or having an education. Like prophecy, wisdom can have those components; but wisdom is the capacity to see deeply into the larger field of reality and, from that observation, speak a deeper and more profound Truth about life and the world around us. It is the sense of "bedrock truth" one experiences in conversing with someone who is sharing wisdom. Like prophecy, wisdom is a gift of the moment. However, wisdom can often "walk with" a person for a long period of time.
One might think that a prophet or a wise person (one given to wisdom as defined above) possesses maturity or a kind of place in life where he or she is not prone to mistakes, frivolity, goofiness or simplicity. We might think of wisdom and prophecy as belonging to the serious, very mature and "stately" person. Nope. Think of the laughing monk, or the "buffoon" who is full of practical jokery and fun. Think of Yoda in Star Wars. Who would imagine such a goofy looking, impish little creature possessing extreme wisdom and the capacity for prophecy. Yoda captures it all in essence.
Prophets and Sages inhabit all levels of society and can be found in the most unlikely places. In fact, one doesn't necessarily find them at all. In my time with the Lakota, I have learned the power and simplicity of the "Medicine Man." Such a person, in Lakota culture, is not self-proclaimed. In fact, they will deny it if asked, "Are you a Medicine Man?" The term "medicine" in Lakota means spiritual depth and the recognition of God at work both in what is unseen as well as what is visible and useful in the world about us. The Medicine Man sees and can use these things as tools for teaching, healing and worship. They recognize and utilize the power of holy things in ways that benefit those in their community. It is the community, in seeing this, that bestows the title, "Medicine Man," on the individual. The Medicine Men that I have met are given to joking, laughing and behaving in a manner that may seem either frivilous or simple. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They possess depth, keen intelligence and insight that can be almost frightening when set loose. Then they simply go back to being themselves...genuine.
At this time of year, it is good to reflect on the prophets of the Hebrew Old Testament and Christian New Testament. John the Baptizer cried in the wilderness to prepare the way for one who would change the world. That tradition of momentary insight and proclamation still happens. This is the time of year to listen, look and slow down to encounter real moments of deeper Truth. Maybe the next conversation with someone in a coffee shop will create an opportunity to turn a corner in your life.
Blessings in this Holy Season,